California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill Saturday that would ban caste discrimination, saying that the bill is unnecessary because current law already covers it.
“In California, we believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, where they come from, who they love, or where they live,” he said in a letter notifying lawmakers of his veto.
“That is why California already prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics, and state law specifies that these civil rights protections shall be liberally construed,” he continued. “Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary.”
The bill, if signed by the governor, would have added caste as a protected class to California’s current anti-discrimination laws. It largely would have targeted the caste system used in South Asian and Hindu communities and would have made California the first state to explicitly ban discrimination by caste.
Senate Bill 403 defined caste as “an individual’s perceived position in a system of social stratification on the basis of inherited status.” Newsom said that this is already covered in current law, despite the state Assembly the state Senate passing the bill earlier this year.
The hundreds-year-old caste system divides people based on birth or descent. While caste discrimination has been banned in India for more than 70 years, recent pieces of legislation in the U.S. have pushed it into the spotlight.
Seattle became the first U.S. city to add caste to its anti-discrimination laws earlier this year, and Fresno, Calif., became the second last month. Proponents of making caste a protected class say that it will protect those in the lowest division in the caste system from bias in housing, education and technology sectors.
The Associated Press contributed.